Films in 3D have become briefly popular again recently. For someone who has been immersed in thinking about lean and the Toyota Production System, the term 3D is a call to arms for kaizen. Called 3K in Japanese, a workplace or job that is 3D is characterized by being dirty, difficult or dangerous. I was reminded of this today by a question from Mark Graban regarding the timing of when Toyota switched from the phrase “respect for humanity” to “respect for people” as one of their two pillars of the Toyota Way.
The notion of 3D is most often taken to apply directly to the gemba – the workplace – and therefore the focus of respect for people is the individual person and their work environment. Kaizen activity targeting 3D conditions aim to make processes clean, easy and safe. This is important, but insufficient when we look deeper into the respect for humanity principle.
The aim of 3D kaizen activity must be not only to remove the 3D elements but to create environments that respect and draw out human potential for doing good. At minimum this means positively replacing the 3D conditions with clean and uncorrupted processes, suitably challenging work that fulfills our sense of purpose, and safety within the workplace that goes beyond physical and emotional harm and also considers security of employment as well as long-term environmental sustainability. Kaizen activity becomes dull and hollow when we lose sight of the fact that we are pursuing the ideal, pursuing perfection. We must work to replace 3D working conditions with those that are spotless, stimulating and secure.
It is important to never to pursue the two pillars of the Toyota Way separately. They are entwined like DNA. Paired with continuous improvement, respecting humanity means respecting all people, not only those who work within our organizations, requiring that we think beyond just our own organization and its profits, to how we benefit wider society.
A production or healthcare process that is extremely clean can still be polluting the environment beyond the facility. Physically clean and pollution-free processes may be still be unethical. Perfectly ethical and clean processes may still be unfair. Even to address just the first D in all of our processes, we have such a long way to go. Why does it have to be so difficult? Or is it a stimulating challenge? Luckily kaizen respects the imperfections of humanity and does not demand solutions from us, only perseverance towards them.